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MNTravelogue

POLAND TOUR - BRESLAU, KRAKOW, AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU



By Orquidia Valenzuela and Wilfredo Valenzuela
Photos: Eddie Flores
January 4, 2016

 
 


Last July, my brother Wilfredo (Sonny to the family) Eddie and I joined a package tour of Krolewskie Miasto Krakao, known to English-speaking nations as Krakow.

The bus trip started early in the morning.  After a full day trip across Germany, we reached Chemnitz in the eastern part of country where we spent the night.

The following day, the tour bus took us to Dresden, one of the German cities in the former Eastern Bloc before the German reunification.  Heavily bombed and destroyed during World War II, Dresden’s monuments and historical landmarks have been repaired, restoring Dresden to the beautiful and vibrant city that it once was.  We were shown the castle, monuments and houses along the Elbe. 

After a walking tour of the city center and a delicious lunch of bockwurst, we proceeded to Wrocław to start our cultural and historical tour of Poland.

Wrocław is a city by the Oder River in western Poland.  Prior to the Potsdam Conference in 1945, Wrocław was part of Germany and known by its German name Breslau.  More than 100 bridges are in the many small islands. The churches and palaces are in Gothic architecture and Renaissance style. The old colorfully painted buildings surrounding the large square made for a very pleasant walk around the city center.  We were amused to see dwarf statues in the market square, commercial districts and even in lobbies of hotels.  We were told by our guide that these ubiquitous little gnomes had political overtone.


Our next destination was another old majestic European city by a river, Krakow by the Vistula.  Krakow dates back to the 7th century. It is known for its historical and cultural monuments. The churches and museum are in the Renaissance age while the houses and churches are in the baroque to romantic period.

An important historical site in Krakow is Wawel Hill, a limestone rock dating back to the Jurassic period.  Pointing to what was a cave during medieval times, our guide told us of a popular Polish legend about a dragon which used to live inside the cave.

 Valuable historical documents of Europe during the medieval ages can be found in the archives of Wawel Royal Castle and the Wawel Cathedral.  The Royal Castle was the residence of the kings of Poland for hundreds of years. At present, it is one of the most important museums of arts and culture in the country.

In the archives of the Krakow Cathedral are stored medieval documents of the history of Europe.  In the crypts are the tombs of the royalties and national heroes of Poland.  Eight bells ring in the two towers of the Wawel Cathedral.  Eighteen chapels are around the Cathedral.

After the morning tour, we had the rest of the day to ourselves.  Restaurants surrounding the plaza serve international cuisine.  We had lunch in one of the restaurants and chose an outside table to see the activities and shows going on.  We felt at home with the Cracovians.  They are friendly and cheerful.  They speak English fluently.

The next day, we were taken to the Jewish district and inside the Old Synagogue. The district was a thriving commercial district and residence of thousands of Jews before the holocaust.

It was a long ride from our hotel outside Krakow to the salt mine in Wieliczka which opened in the 13th century.  Salt production continued until 2007. Our group was warned by the guide that although there is a lift (elevator), those with heart condition should consider the serious health risk. The mine is 327 meters deep, the tunnels dark and 287 kilometers long. Also, to avoid getting lost, we should stay together.

The mine is rich in old and contemporary statues and carvings from rock salt in various shades. We followed the guide to one of the three chapels also carved out of the rock salt. The statues in the chapel are truly amazing work of art.

The last historical site we visited in Poland was the former Auschwitz-Birkenau World War II concentration and extermination camp. Our tour guide, a local resident, graphically described the horrific life of the holocaust prisoners as she took us around the camp. Seeing the inmates’ squalid living quarters at Auschwitz-Birkenau, walking through the gas chamber, and viewing the countless personal effects taken from prisoners serve as indelible and chilling reminders of the atrocious crime against humanity committed during the holocaust.

Poland is a beautiful country, and it is rich in history.  Our tour there proved to be pleasurable and enlightening, as well as sobering. 

We returned to the Netherlands after staying overnight in Kulmbach in Bavaria.

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